Film+TV

This weekend as part of the London Open City Documentary Festival, musician, producer, NTS DJ and trained human rights lawyer Nabihah Iqbal presents a rare screening of the 1972 documentary Winter Soldier at London’s ICA.

Filmed in Detroit by the Winterfilm Collective, the film documents the Winter Soldier Investigation in 1972. Including testimonies by some 125 Vietnam War veterans, the three-day hearing hoped to expose war crimes and atrocities by the United States Armed Forces and their allies in the War in an attempt to bring it to an end.

Initially ignored by the media and not reported to the US public, the film stands the test of time, especially in regards to the current Trump administration and the President’s nonchalant attitude towards violence and war. “The fact that we’ve reached a point in 2018 where the US President makes a public remark about ordering drone attacks on Syria whilst he was eating chocolate cake, is a fine example to show the extent to which the reality of war and violence has been distanced and almost forgotten about by the western world,” says Iqbal below.

Here, Iqbal talks us through her initial feelings about Winter Soldier and why the film is as poignant as ever today.

Alex James Taylor: What made you want to show this film now?
Nabihah Iqbal: When the London Open City Documentary Festival approached me to ask if I’d like to present a screening of a documentary film as part of the festival, Winter Soldier was one of the first films that came to mind. I’ve only seen it once before, and that was about 10 years ago, but it’s still so vivid in my mind and I think the messages it conveys are extremely important. In the current climate, where Western countries have constantly been at war with other parts of the world since World War II, this film offers a necessary counterpoint and space in which to consider the real physical and mental implications of those involved in war, regardless of which side they are on. 

AJT: When did you first watch it and what were your initial thoughts?
NI: I first watched this film in 2008 and funnily enough that screening was also at the ICA. For me, the initial reaction was shock and sometimes repulsion, because parts of the film are quite hard to watch. When the American soldiers recount their acts of extreme violence so bluntly, it makes it difficult to compute. I also felt very sad.

AJT: The fact the film was banned in the US and barely reported over there speaks volumes, especially as a reflection of today’s politics and media. How poignant do you think the film is in 2018 and how do you see the fact it was banned in the US as being a precursor of today’s global media?
NI: The film is as poignant today as it was when it was made in 1972 because not much has changed since. If you made a film in the same format today about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, I think the soldiers’ stories would be very similar to those recounted in Winter Soldier. The violence didn’t stop with the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. It’s probably even worse now because today’s technology means that you can instil extreme violence in a much more clinical way, with the use of drones and long-range missiles. Winter Soldier acts as a very important reminder  about the extent of violence that humans are capable of, and it gives us a very tangible idea of what the effects of that violence is. The fact that we’ve reached a point in 2018 where the US President makes a public remark about ordering drone attacks on Syria whilst he was eating chocolate cake, is a fine example to show the extent to which the reality of war and violence has been distanced and almost forgotten about by the western world. 

AJT: The testimonies in the film are harrowing, laid bare with no pretence or distraction. In a society where we like to turn these stories into Hollywood movies (such as Apocalypse Now – which does examine and criticise the war but from an entertainment POV), how important are pieces of history such as this film?
NI: As a piece of history, Winter Soldier is extremely important because it provides us with primary evidence of what America’s activities were like in Vietnam. It’s as close as we’re going to get to the truth, and so it makes sense why the U.S. government banned it. I feel frustrated when I watch Hollywood interpretations of the Vietnam War, such as We Were Soldiers which basically re-writes history and falsely concludes that America won the war. This sort of thing happens all the time and it effects our collective memory in a very serious way. That’s why I think Winter Soldier is essential viewing because it confronts us with the uncomfortable truth and makes us think about things more. 

Still, 'Winter Soldier' (1972)

AJT: The testimonies were filmed by the Winterfilm Collective, can you tell us a bit about them?
NI: The Winterfilm Collective is a group of film makers made up of various cinematographers and directors but also Vietnam War Veterans who all shared the same anti-war sentiment. They formed to make their first film Winter Soldier, in 1972, which is all about the oral testimonies given by US soldiers who served in Vietnam, during an anti-war convention that took place in Detroit in 1971. 

The night will be followed by a discussion and an evening of music inspired by the film, what can we expect from these?

The film makes for intense viewing, and so I feel that following the screening with a discussion, will help people to decompress a bit, and allow them to share thoughts and ideas about the film whilst they are fresh in their minds. I feel that talking about the film will help all of us to figure our thoughts out more easily. The music which will follow the event will consist of DJ sets by myself, and also Haseeb Iqbal. We’ll be playing sets which will include protest songs and music from the anti-Vietnam war movement, and other songs inspired by similar ideas. I want to create a space in which people feel comfortable to carry on their discussions about the film, and we’ll see how the night progresses and if people want to have a dance to get rid of some energy…

What do you want people to leave thinking?

It’s not about thinking something specific – I just want people to leave thinking. I’m still thinking about the film now, ten years after having watched it. It really stuck in my mind and that’s why I want to share it with a wider audience because I know that it will have a deep effect on other people’s thoughts too.

‘Nabihah Iqbal Presents: Winter Soldier + Discussion + Party’ takes place on 8th September at the ICA, buy tickets here.